Numbers 21: 4-9, John 3:14-21, Ephesians 2:1-10
March 22, 2009 (Fourth Sunday in Lent)
First Christian Church
As some of you know, I just got back from a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. My partner Daniel, tends to get cabin fever around late February, early March and somehow, we end up going somewhere. This year, it was to the land of good steaks and the tango. It was an awesome trip and I got to use my Spanish a lot.
We spent a lot of time visiting the different barrios of this immense city. One day, we went to the Plaza de Mayo which is akin to our National Mall. It is a small plaza that is in front of the Casa Rosada, or Pink House, which is the Argentine version of the White House. In the Plaza were several graffiti renditions of a white scarf shaped as if it were worn by someone. This represented los Madres, the mothers and grandmothers of those who had been “dissapeared” by the military during la Guerra Sucia or “Dirty War.” Between 1976 and 1su983, Argentina was ruled by a military dictatorship. The military decided to get rid of anyone that was deemed a threat and this included intellectuals, artists and political activists. Thousands were dragged into Ford Falcons and never seen again.
The mothers and grandmothers of those who had been taken decided to stage a protest in the Plaza de Mayo to demand justice. Los Madres kept protesting long after the military went back to their barracks and democracy was restored, seeking answers and demanding that those responsible for human rights abuses be punished.
Los Madres stopped their protests in 2006 in response to the government’s willingness to overturn amnesty laws. But this painting was a reminder of their bravery and something else: here in this wonderful city, there was a reminder that all was not well, even in paradise.
The texts today all deal in some way with the cross. In some ways, that shouldn’t be surprising: I mean, we are in Lent and on a journey that will take Jesus to the cross. But today, it seems all out in the open. We can’t run from it. Here is the cross in all its ugliness.
It’s kind of odd that we Christians use the cross as our symbol. It’s a symbol of death and a rather grizzly death. Some Christians have wondered why we even use such a symbol.
The cross can also be a reminder to us that things are not well in world. Like the symbol of Los Madres, it reminds us that in this world there is injustice and sin. People use each other, hurt each other and the rest of God’s creation. It reminds us that we are not okay, that we hurt each other. All is not well.
But that isn’t the whole story. In the story in Numbers which Jesus tells again in John, we a reminded that the cross can also bring healing and salvation. The story in Numbers tells us that the Israelites were complaining to Moses about the lot in life. God heard their complaints and sends poisonious snakes to come and torment the Israelites. They come to Moses again, this time pleading to get rid of the snakes. God hears the cries of the Israelites and tells Moses to make a golden serpent and place it on a pole. If any Israelite who was bitten, looked up at the golden serpent, then they would be healed.
Jesus uses this old story to make a point in his conversation with Nicodemus, the religious leader who came late at night to chat with him over coffee. Just as God used the golden snake to heal the Israelites, then so to would the Son of God be lifted up to heal creation. Nicodemus didn’t understand that, and I think most of us would have scratched our heads as well. Jesus was referring to his death on the cross. Jesus would be the golden serpent, the antidote to the state of the world.
What does this mean for us as a community of faith? I think it reminds us that in our daily lives and in the lives of our friends, we deal with snakes and crosses, those things that cause hurt and pain. In this current environment, many of us know someone that is dealing with a job loss or a home being foreclosed- it might even be the case that we are the one dealing with such a crisis. We face these snakes and crosses that bring a death of some kind. We may even wonder where God is to prevent us from facing these snakes. We and our friends walk around with the hurts and wounds of life. Sin, the separation of humanity from God and each other, still seems to reign. Sometimes we hide our hurts and pains from each other and pretend that everything is okay. Even in church, we tend to hide our pains, not wanting to burden others.
But the good news is that God works through what seems to be an instrument of death to bring life and healing. Just as the Israelites were able to find healing by looking at the golden serpent, we find healing, salvation through Jesus on the cross.
John 3:16 is probably the most well known verse in the Bible. “For God so loved the world...” is how it begins. God loves all of creation. God loves us. All of us. And God shows God’s love by coming in the form of a human named Jesus, who lived among us and died for us. God brought healing to the world.
God has healed us, all of us. The cross remind us that not only that something is not right in the world, but that God is doing something about this. As a community of faith, we are called to go and tell people that they are loved by God. There is nothing that they have to do to earn God’s love, because it is by God’s grace that they are loved. We have a story to tell.
We also have a job to do. Just as God brought healing to the world, we are called to be a people that not only tells the story of God’s healing love, but also be a community of healers...wounded healers as the late Henri Nouwen used to say. This faith community, First Christian has lived a life in the shadow of a cross. The congregation was that was once large, is now not so large. We have wondered if the congregation could continue. But even in the midst of the crosses that have taken place in the life of this congregation, we have also seen acts of healing. We give space to two other congregations: Tiempo Nuevo and the Spirit of St. Stephens, showing hospitality to people who might be new to the area or who have been cast out of churches. We have opened up our space to the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus to give them space to practice. Churches have not always been friendly to gay and lesbian folk, but we have welcomed them in a sign of hospitality. We opened our doors to the world on election day, providing cookies and coffees to voters as they performed their democratic duties. In the midst of our own crosses, we have provided healing. We are called to follow God’s example and go and love the world, with all of its blemishes and join in God’s work of healing. We do that when we care for the poor, as we have on Food Pantry Sunday. We do that when we try to welcome those who enter our doors, be they black or white or Latino or of Arab descent; be they straight or gay, rich or poor.
Some of you might remember long ago when I first joined First Christian, I came down down with a severe infection that placed me in the hospital for two weeks. I had lost a lot of weight, couldn’t eat , I was in all around bad shape. Fluid had built up around my lungs making it hard to breathe. As a way to aid in my healing, the doctors decided to cut open a small slice in my stomach to get a catheter in that would drain the fluid in my lungs. It was not fun trying to get that thing in. Today on my right side is a scar from that incident. That procedure brought a lot of pain, but the scar reminds me that it also brought hope: it helped in making me better, taking away the fluids that were keep me from breathing.
We opened the service singing the hymn, “Lift High the Cross.” The chorus goes like this:
“Lift high the cross,
the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore
his sacred Name.”
A instrument of death brings life instead. Funny how God works. Let us life up the cross as a reminder of God’s love for the world and let us tell the story. Let us bring healing, First Aid to a world that needs healing. Amen.